Children who complete more years of education are less likely to have malnourished offspring

January 24, 2008

Higher levels of formal education for children decrease the risk of stunting in their future offspring. This is the conclusion of authors of an Article in this week's edition of The Lancet.

Stunting is linear growth failure due to poor nutrition and infections both before and after birth. Stunting in early childhood is associated with poor cognitive, motor, and socioemotional development, and increased mortality. It also leads to irreversible damage, including shorter adult height, lower attained schooling, reduced adult income, and decreased offspring birthweight.*

Professor Richard Semba, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA, and colleagues looked at data for indicators of child growth, parental education and socioeconomic status from 590570 families in Indonesia an 395122 families in Bangladesh as collected by major health and nutritional surveillance programmes.

The researchers found that the prevalence of stunting among children aged 0-59 months in Indonesia was 33.2%. Greater maternal formal education led to reduction in risk of child stunting of between 4.4% (urban settings) and 5.0% (rural settings) per extra year of education (EYE). Fathers receiving more formal education also reduced the risk of child stunting -- by 3% per EYE. In Bangladesh (where prevalence of stunting in families was above 50%), each EYE a mother received led to a 4.6% decrease in risk of stunting, while each EYE for the father led to a decrease in the risk of stunting of between 2.9% (rural settings) and 5.4% (urban settings). In Indonesia, high levels of education in mothers and fathers were both associated with protective caregiving behaviours towards their children, including vitamin A capsule receipt, receiving complete childhood immunisations, better sanitation, and use of iodised salt.

The authors say that the findings emphasise the importance of achieving as much schooling as possible, including under difficult circumstances such as civil unrest and post-emergencies. They conclude: "The promotion of higher levels of formal education for both women and men is part of the second Millennium Development Goal. Promotion of higher levels of education should help promote gender equality, empower women, and -- through better informed caregiving practices -- reduce child stunting, and, over the long term, reduce the risk of childhood mortality."

In an accompanying Comment, Professor Theodore D Wachs, Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA, says: "These findings mean that we should study what influences a child's physical growth within a multidimensional systems framework, where the effect of one mediator depends on those of other mediators. This complexity is needed because, in the real world, mediators rarely act alone."
-end-
Notes to editors: *From the 2nd paper in the Lancet Series on Child and Maternal Undernutrition

Professor Richard Semba, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA T) +1-410-955-3572 E) rdsemba@jhmi.edu

Professor Theodore D Wachs, Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, Purdue Univeristy, West Lafayette, IN, USA T) +1 765 494-6992 E) wachs@psych.purdue.edu

Lancet

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